فصل 06

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فصل 06

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CHAPTER SIX

Lost in Time

‘As I stood there thinking about this too perfect success of humans, the full moon came up in the north-east. The little figures stopped moving around below me and the night began to feel cold. I decided to go down and find a place to sleep.

‘I looked for the building I knew. Then my eye moved to the white sphinx on the pedestal. There were the bushes and there was the little lawn. I looked at it again. A strange doubt made me feel cold. “No,” I said to myself, “that isn’t the lawn.”

‘But it was the lawn, because the white face of the sphinx was towards it. Can you imagine how I felt as I realised this? But you can’t. The Time Machine had gone!

‘At once I understood the possibility of losing my own time, of being left helpless in this strange new world. I ran with great jumps down the hillside. Once I fell and cut my face. I did nothing to stop the blood, but jumped up and continued running. All the time I was saying to myself, “They have just pushed it under the bushes out of the way.”

‘But I knew that I was wrong. I suppose I covered the whole distance to the small lawn, three kilometres perhaps, in ten minutes. I shouted but nobody answered. Nobody seemed to be moving in that moonlit world.

‘When I reached the lawn, I found that my worst fears were true. The Time Machine was nowhere to be seen. I felt faint and cold. I ran round the lawn quickly, checking every corner, then stopped suddenly. Above me was the white sphinx. It seemed to smile with pleasure at my problems.

‘It is possible that the little people had put the machine in a safe place for me, but I didn’t feel that they were either strong enough or caring enough to move it. This is what worried me, the feeling of a new power that had moved the machine. But where could it be?

‘I think I went a little mad. I remember running violently in and out of the moonlit bushes all around the sphinx and frightening a small white animal that I didn’t recognise. Then, crying and shouting, I went down to the great building of stone. The big hall was dark, silent and empty. I lit a match and continued past the dusty curtains.

‘There I found a second great hall, where about twenty of the little people were sleeping. I have no doubt they found my second appearance strange, as I came suddenly out of the quiet darkness with mad noises and the sudden light of a match. Perhaps they had forgotten about matches. “Where is my Time Machine?” I began, shaking them with my hands.

‘This behaviour was very strange to them. Some laughed, but most looked very frightened. When I saw them standing round me, I realised that it was foolish to try and frighten them. Judging by their daylight behaviour, I thought that fear must be forgotten.

‘I threw down the match and, knocking one of the people over as I went, I ran across the big dining-hall again, out under the moonlight. I heard cries of terror and their little feet running this way and that. I don’t remember everything I did as the moon moved slowly up the sky I know that I ran here and there screaming, then lay on the ground near the sphinx and cried. After that I slept, and when I woke up again it was light.

‘I sat up in the freshness of the morning, trying to remember how I had got there. Then things became clear in my mind. I understood the wild stupidity of my madness overnight and I could reason with myself. “Suppose the worst,” I said. “Suppose the machine is really lost - perhaps destroyed? I should be calm and patient, learn the ways of the people, learn what has happened and how to get materials and tools - then, in the end, perhaps, I can make another machine.” That would be my only hope, perhaps, but better than giving up. And it was a beautiful and interesting world.

‘But probably the machine had only been taken away. I must be calm, find its hiding-place and get it back by force and cleverness. I stood up and looked around me, wondering where I could wash. I felt tired and dirty and rather surprised by my emotional state the night before.

‘I made a careful examination of the ground around the little lawn. I wasted some time in useless questions, asked, as well as I could, to the little people that passed. They all failed to understand what I meant. Some simply said nothing; others thought it was a joke and laughed at me.

‘The grass told me more. I found a line in it. There were other signs around, with strange narrow footprints. This made me look again at the pedestal. It was made, as I think I have said, of metal. It was highly decorated with metal panels on either side.

‘I went and knocked at these. The pedestal was hollow. There was no way to pull to open the panels, but perhaps if they were doors they opened from inside. One thing was clear enough to my mind: it wasn’t difficult to work out that the Time Machine was inside that pedestal. But how had it got there?

‘I saw the heads of two people dressed in orange coming through the bushes towards me. They came and, pointing to the pedestal, I tried to make them understand my wish to open it. But at my first move to do this they behaved very oddly. I don’t know how to describe their faces to you. They looked insulted.

‘I tried a sweet-looking man in white next, with exactly the same result. He made me feel ashamed of myself. But as you know, I wanted the Time Machine and I tried him again. As he turned away, like the others, I lost my temper. In three steps I was after him, took him by the loose part of his robe round the neck and began pulling him towards the pedestal. Then I saw the fear on his face and I let him go.

‘But I wasn’t beaten yet. I hit the metal panels with my hands. I thought I heard something move inside - to be exact, I thought I heard a sound like a laugh - but perhaps I was mistaken. Then I got a big stone from the river and hit the metal until I had flattened part of the decoration. The little people could hear the noise a kilometre way in all directions, but they did nothing.

‘I saw a crowd of them on the hillside, looking at me in a frightened way. At last, hot and tired, I sat down to watch the place. But I was too impatient to watch for long. I could work at a problem for years, but I was unable to wait, inactive, for twenty- four hours.

‘I got up after a time and began walking aimlessly through the bushes towards the hill again. “Patience,” I said to myself. “If you want your machine again, you must leave that pedestal alone. If they intend to take your machine away, it won’t help if you destroy their metal panels. If they don’t, you will get it back when you can ask for it.

“Face this world. Learn its ways, watch it, be careful of guessing its meaning too quickly. In the end you will find an answer to it all.” Then suddenly the humour of the situation came into my mind: the thought of the years I had spent in study and work to get into the future age, and now my impatience to get out of it. I had put myself into the most hopeless situation a man could ever imagine. I couldn’t help laughing at myself.

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